Lepidus is not the only character who gives false allegiance to others; Caesar breaks bonds with both Antony and Lepidus. When Lepidus asks Caesar to ‘let [him] be partaker’ of any events involving the Roman Empire, Caesar says that he ‘[knows] it for [his] bond. ‘ However, later in the play, Caesar imprisons Lepidus and has him killed. Caesar manufactures charges against Lepidus, whom he tells Agrippa and Maecenas has ‘grown too cruel’, to justify his actions. However, primarily, the audience sees Caesar as an attractive character that embodies the values of empire and even as an attractive character.
At the beginning of the play, Caesar is the antithesis of Antony. Antony is devoted to his own pleasure whereas Caesar is devoted to duty and empire. Antony is an emotional character, both with Cleopatra and in battle. Caesar, on the contrary, is very rational. This contrast is shown through Antony’s agreement to fight at sea, despite the dangers, and Caesar’s refusal to fight soldier to soldier with Antony because of Antony’s greater skill in this area. Caesar shows restrain and temperance while Antony shows lack of self-restraint.
As the play progresses the audience gain more insight into how cold, calculating and ruthless Caesar has become, or always was. Caesar, following battle with Antony, tells Maecenas to ‘feast the army’ as they have ‘store to do’t /And they have earned the waste. ‘ He will only feast his army in triumph and even then, only on the surplus food. Caesar’s begrudging and intolerant character is shown to be worse when he moves against both Antony and Lepidus. As the play progresses, and empire is discredited, love becomes elevated.
Enobarbus is not a sentimental or emotional character; he is the epitome of a rational soldier. This is made clear to the audience when he tells Antony, following the news of Fulvia’s death, that ‘the tears /live in an onion that should water this sorrow’. Enobarbus leaves Antony because he feels his ‘valour preys on [his] reason’. Having deserted and thus, betrayed Antony, Enobarbus ‘repent[s]’, calling himself ‘the villain of the earth’ and dies of a broken heart, his last words being, ‘O Antony! O Antony! ‘ words which are later echoed by Cleopatra upon her death.
He makes clear his strength of feeling and love for Antony, previously his ‘brave emperor’, through his saddening and poignant death. His death from a broken heart shows that loyalty and love can be far greater forces than rationality. It is not just love in the abstract, however, that grows in value as the play progresses but the love between the two protagonists. It could be interpreted from the ‘twenty several messengers’ Cleopatra sends to Antony, that she has a great strength of love for him. Furthermore, Shakespeare did not include the fact that Mark Antony had children with Octavia.
Had it been included, the audience’s sympathy towards Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship may have been compromised. Previously, upon hearing the news that Antony is ‘bound unto Octavia’, Cleopatra says ‘pity me, Charmian’. The audience do pity Cleopatra and are not pleased that Antony and Octavia are married. Later, when Enobarbus states that Antony ‘will to his Egyptian dish again’, the audience are pleased, even though Antony’s decision will clearly jeopardise his position in Empire. Moreover, in the face of adversity, Antony and Cleopatra’s love appears to deepen.
When Eros is fumbling with Antony’s armour, because he is nervous that Antony will lose the battle, Cleopatra acts very bravely. Motivated and inspired by her feeling for Antony she arms him herself proving the maturity and genuineness of her love. Her bravery is further displayed when, again inspired by Antony, she takes her own life. As their love deepens, it inspires them to acts of nobility. The audience sees both Antony and Cleopatra’s suicides as highly noble. Antony’s botched suicide is somewhat absurd but Antony kills himself for noble reasons.
He does not want to ‘be windowed in great Rome’ by Caesar and wishes to die as ‘a Roman by a Roman /Valiantly vanquished’. Antony’s strength of feeling is emphasised by the use of alliteration. Moreover, Antony kills himself in part to be with Cleopatra and because ‘Dido and her Aeneas shall want troops /And all the haunt be ours’, an image of both Antony and Cleopatra ruling in the afterlife and being together forever. It is suggested that they transcend into the after-life by achieving immortality when Cleopatra claims that ‘[e]ternity was in [their] lips and eyes’.
This language seems somewhat exaggerated but, having witnessed the exceptional nature of their love for each other throughout the play and what it inspires them to do, the audience are more willing to believe it. This point is further emphasised when towards the end of the play, just before Cleopatra commits suicide, she claims that she has ‘immortal longings in [her]’. Cleopatra and her women ‘heave Antony aloft to Cleopatra’. This could be a visual display of how their love elevates them or even provides an elevated image of Antony and is a powerful depiction for the audience.
In addition, when Cleopatra eulogises him upon his death, she uses ornate and metaphorical language, describing his legs which ‘bestrid the ocean’ and his arm which ‘crested the world’ providing him with great dignity. She also says that his face ‘lighted /The little O, the earth’, suggesting that the world will be in darkness without this ‘most sovereign creature. ‘ This potent image, again emphasises his greatness, and thus lessens the absurdity of his suicide. It also develops the imagery of light and dark that is in use throughout the play.
Caesar’s genuine praise of Antony in saying that ‘[t]he breaking of so great a thing should make /A greater crack’ also contributes to the dignity of Antony’s death. A main contributor to the dignity of Antony’s suicide is Cleopatra’s decision to emulate his death ‘after the high Roman fashion. ‘ She imagines he will ‘rouse himself /To praise [her] noble act. ‘ When she commits suicide, with the help of her women, she is literally transformed into a queen before the audience when they put on her ‘royal attire’, displaying her incredible splendour and majesty.
Cleopatra takes up the Roman notion of honourable suicide, and somewhat ironically, completes the task with more nobility than Antony did. She uses an asp whose ‘biting is immortal’ to poison herself, a sensuous and uncomplicated suicide. Her suicide is so extraordinary because she displays Roman nobility while remaining true to Egyptian values as she ‘looks like sleep’, maintaining her beauty even in death. The glory of her suicide reflects upon Antony. At the end of the play, there is the suggestion of the couple’s transcendence.
This could relate to Antony’s suggestion that ‘[they] stand up peerless. ‘ Both Antony and Cleopatra feel that their love transcends the limits of the world. There is further implication that they will go on to rule in the Elysian Fields, the idea of an after-life, a concept that would have particularly appealed to the Christian audience for whom the play was originally written. A soothsayer warns Antony that Caesar has ‘natural luck’ and Antony agrees that ‘the very dice obey him. ‘ Cleopatra describing him as ‘fortune’s knave’ takes part of the honour of his conquest away.
The language Cleopatra uses suggests that opposed to Caesar being a victor, he is simply fortune’s puppet. Cleopatra refers to him as an ‘ass /Unpolicied’, stripping away his glory with her derogatory language. The audience are encouraged to sympathise with Antony and have less respect for Caesar’s final victory. Caesar claims that ‘[Cleopatra’s] life in Rome would be eternal in [his] triumph’ in order for him to humiliate her by parading her through the streets. He does not want Cleopatra to commit suicide ‘lest… by some mortal stroke /She do defeat us.
‘ The noble suicides of Antony and Cleopatra, however, undermine his glory because he is unable to achieve this aim. He is outwitted and does not receive the public adulation for which he had hoped. The audience are glad that Caesar’s Roman conquest pales in comparison to the heart-rending suicides of both Antony and Cleopatra, and his triumph is so reduced. Caesar is forced to confront the limitations of earthly power in contrast to Antony and Cleopatra’s suggested transcendence. Caesar’s conquest of worldly empire is limited.
Following Antony’s death, in Cleopatra’s eyes ‘there is nothing left remarkable /Beneath the visiting moon’, a world that echoes Antony’s previous sentiments when he took the decision to embrace love rather than empire by stating that ‘[k]ingdoms are clay’ and ‘dungy earth. ‘ This, again, primarily appeared to the audience as inflated language but the play seems to bear this out. Antony describes the lack of nobility about the earth, which ‘feeds beasts as man. ‘ Caesar’s victory is very limited and what is truly unlimited is the extraordinary nature of the love between Antony and Cleopatra.
Thus, due to the unattractiveness of the Roman Empire, and deepening of love, the constraints of rationality, and what love is able to inspire, the limits of Caesar’s conquest and the infinite love between Antony and Cleopatra, love seems to be the more powerful theme, having a more profound effect upon the audience. Therefore, it would appear that ‘essentially’ love is a more central theme to the play than politics and empire. However, on closer inspection, love and politics are not as different as they may at first appear.